Strawberry shortcake at summer festivals and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving – these culinary traditions are no accident. While these dishes are typically associated with celebrations, they are also tied to the seasons. Strawberries thrive in June and July, and pumpkins are harvested in the fall. Eating food that is seasonal and local is a tradition that is both good for human health and the environment.

Fruits and vegetables thrive when planted and harvested during certain times of the year. Tomato plants, for example, are typically best when harvested during the summer, because they need a lot of sun for their fruit to ripen. Timing is important for plants to grow successfully. Seeds are accustomed to everything from the condition of the soil to the amount of rain during a particular season. Oftentimes, produce is picked during its peak harvest time and then treated with chemicals and stored to be sold throughout the year. These products end up poorer tasting and with less nutritional value. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables grown during their natural season are the healthiest and most flavorful. It is well worth the wait.

Eating locally grown produce has many benefits as well. Flavor and nutrients are retained and extensive, pollution-causing transportation – known as “food miles” – is not required. Produce that travels a great distance is often also treated with chemicals for preservation. In contrast, produce grown in your region can be enjoyed naturally hours after being picked from the vine. Enjoying locally grown food can also foster community and create appreciation for local culinary traditions.

This summer, after you purchase your food from a farmers’ market or CSA, prepare it using a healthy recipe. The Eating to 100 series from the TODAY show features recipes that boost longevity – many of which are packed full of produce, like this one!